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12 Points on Refinishing Your Basement

If you’re planning a do-it-yourself basement-finishing project, know that your sense of satisfaction is going to far outweigh most obstacles you’ll encounter along the way. There are always, however, little details that might escape the non-professional refinisher.

Have a look at the following list, and pick up some insider’s wisdom on what to look out for during your downstairs design and build-out.

Building Permit:

It’s hard to imagine a municipality that will let you build out your basement without the proper permit so get in touch with your town or city hall and make certain you’ve got the papers in hand to do the work you want to do.

Draw the Plan:

You don’t want your finished basement to look like a home-improvement experiment gone wrong. From plumbing to electrical, from floors to wall framing, get your basement project on paper or a computer screen before you pick up that hammer.


A key enemy of the basement-finisher is moisture. It can ruin carpets, furniture, and pose health risks via mold. Test for it by affixing something like a rubber mat to your floor with masking tape. Check after 24 hours. Condensation means you’ve got a sealing project ahead of you.

Outside Gutters:

No sense going through all the trouble of moisture-sealing your basement just to have your roof dump rainwater onto your foundation. Be certain that your gutters route water away from the perimeter of your home, and grade the land that comes up to your foundation so that it slopes away from the house.

Mold-Resistant Materials:

As you pay attention to what’s outside your home, in terms of water leakage, give yourself a fighting chance against mold on the inside by making sure your wall paneling material is a high-grade mold-resistant variety.

Insulation and Studs:

As you build out the frame in a well-sealed basement, be certain that you account for possible water problems as well. Opt for thick foam paneling on the bottom foot of each wall. You’ll want to measure studs for wall frames pretty precisely, but be sure to leave about 1/16 of an inch so that the wood won’t bend or bow when temperature and pressure alter over time.

Bathroom Safeguards:

If you’re putting a living-space downstairs, don’t forget to get a professionally installed backflow-prevention system for your finished basement’s tubs, toilets, and sinks. Similarly, add de-humidifying equipment to shower/tub-installed bathrooms down there. And remember that below-grade sewage plumbing requires an ejector system, because gravity can’t do its thing from the bottom up.


Be sure to check your local building codes for how much headroom a finished basement will need. If it’s too low, you’ll want to address the space before refinishing, because violations can lead to fines (and make it more difficult to sell your home).


When you add a finished floor to a basement, you can alter the distance between the bottom steps of a staircase and the surface of the floor. You can add height with store-bought spacers (they slip under the top of the step itself), but check your local building codes to make certain the whole flight stays in compliance.

Boilers and Furnaces:

No matter what you use your basement for, once it’s finished, you’ll still need to be able to get at the hardcore guts of your home. Design enough space around the boiler, heater, and other mechanical devices so that future maintenance and upkeep doesn’t turn into a tight squeeze.

Windows and Doors:

Most fire codes will require a point of egress for the main living space and any bedrooms. You might need to plan to install a door and a window in each separate room.


It’s an odorless, colorless gas that comes up from the ground into basements situated over subterranean deposits of uranium. It might sound far-fetched, but it’s an everyday consideration in the world of home safety. Get a radon-detector kit and do the test. If you’ve got a problem, it can be fixed with sealant and better ventilation.

Bonus Point – Building and Fire Codes:

If you plan to have your basement act as a suite be sure to check with your local building and fire codes before making plans and choosing building materials.

At EiEi Home we’re always listening for more great tips. Learned something key about basement finishing projects from your own experience? Drop us a note and let us know!

By James O’Brien

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